The Southampton Microbiology Laboratory is an HPA regional laboratory which provides an extensive range of clinical microbiology diagnostic services including bacteriology, virology, serology, parasitology, mycology and molecular tests to hospitals and general practitioners.
It is part of a national network of HPA laboratories in England, with headquarters in Colindale, London and as part of this network, has rapid access to national reference laboratory facilities.
The laboratory takes part in the national Quality Assurance Scheme (UK NEQAS) and is accredited by the Clinical Pathologists Accreditation (CPA) scheme.
It provides epidemiological data for the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre in Colindale and investigates outbreaks of infectious diseases in support of the Consultant in Communicable Disease Control and the Infection Prevention Team.
From diagnosing HIV to cancer screening, from blood transfusion to food poisoning and infection control, biomedical scientists are a vital part of modern healthcare, working in partnership with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Doctors treat their patients based on the results of diagnostic investigations carried out by biomedical scientists. The work biomedical scientists must be accurate and efficient as patient's lives may depend on their skills.
The role of the biomedical scientist in microbiology
The primary role of the biomedical scientist in microbiology is the detection, isolation and identification of pathogenic micro-organisms from clinical material. These organisms, which may be bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, need to be differentiated from the body's normal flora which helps to prevent infection. The pathogenic organisms isolated are then tested against a range of antibiotics to determine which may be suitable to treat the infection.
Some of the diseases diagnosed include meningitis, tuberculosis and HIV. Occasionally, due to the ease of foreign travel, we may encounter, for example, the organisms that cause diphtheria, cholera and typhoid.
Biomedical scientists are continually increasing their knowledge. Research and development results in improved analytical methods and in the recognition of 'new' microbial diseases, which in the last twenty years have included campylobacter (now known to be the most common cause of diarrhoea in the UK), helicobacter, legionella and Clostridium difficile, which has been making news headlines recently.
Scientists learn to work with sophisticated equipment to employ a wide range of complex techniques to perform their roles. Analytical methods vary from culturing the organisms on agar plates or in broths, which can be relatively slow (from twenty four hours upwards) to more rapid immunodiagnostic tests, to modern molecular methods which involve looking for specific DNA either directly from the specimen or from an isolated organism. In the past it could take up to six weeks to confirm tuberculosis in the laboratory, but it can now be confirmed in two days by molecular methods. Antimicrobial treatment of a patient suspected of having meningococcal meningitis would result in the inability to isolate the organism from the cerebrospinal fluid. Now it can be rapidly detected by molecular methods.